Montford Point gets Oscar-winning actor April 12,2006 DANIEL MCNAMARA DAILY NEWS STAFF When Rubenn “Pappy” Hines joined the Marine Corps in 1943, two stamps were placed next to his name in the registry.
One said “colored.” The other said “for the duration of the war only.”
Obviously, the man stamping the registry — and even the Corps itself — had not been there when Hines saw the Marine Corps recruiting poster only a year earlier.
“It looked like the guy was pointing straight at me,” Hines said.
On Tuesday, Hines, 81, was one of 12 Montford Point Marines and a host of family members and admirers who attended a reception at what is now known as Camp Johnson to celebrate the a documentary chronicling their fight to fight for the Corps. They were joined by Academy Award-winning actor Louis Gossett Jr., who narrated the documentary and offered a few remarks at the reception.
“I know you’re strong and it’s on your shoulders that I stand,” said the actor, who earned an Oscar playing a drill instructor in the 1982 film, “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
Sometime this fall, the yet-to-be-titled film will tell a story that many who were at the Montford Point Museum Tuesday night believe is long overdue.
Between 1942 and 1949, 19,000 black recruits attended basic training at Montford Point with the idea that the Marine Corps would revert to an all-white force as soon as World War II ended.
Since 2001, University of North Carolina at Wilmington professor emeritus Melton McLaurin has worked with the University of South Carolina and the Montford Point Marines to show the world why that didn’t happen.
“They had to fight just to get into the Marine Corps,” said museum director Finney Greggs. “It’s not something people should be proud of, but it’s something they should embrace.”
After spending four years securing financial support for the project, McLaurin began interviewing the remaining Montford Point Marines last year.
McLaurin plans to preview the film this July during the Montford Point convention this July. After that the filmmaker hopes to air the hour-long documentary on PBS.
Although he interviewed 61 subjects, McLaurin says that several common threads emerged, including the esprit de corps, the cruelty of battle, prejudice inside and outside the Corps, and the elation of acceptance that many black Marines first experienced in Korea and Vietnam.
Following a few, brief presentations by Greggs, Jacksonville Mayor Jan Bean Slagle and Montford Point Marine Association president Nathaniel James, McLaurin introduced Gossett, calling him “probably the most famous non-Marine gunnery sergeant.”
Among a hail of “oohrahs”, Gossett spoke of the importance of the Montford Point Marines’ tale and the pride he felt in telling it.
McLaurin said it wasn’t that difficult getting an Academy Award winner to participate in the film.
“It was really rather simple,” McLaughlin said. “We called and asked.
“From the beginning he was interested in the project because of the men.”